Good coping requires humility

Why would humility be an important part of coping effectively with stress? The answer is simple: Psychologically, humility involves much more than simply admitting your mistakes and weaknesses; much more than not allowing yourself to be an egotistical braggart when you do well. Yes, such actions are a helpful part of coping, but they serve you best when you allow the humility coping circle to play to completion.

What exactly is the humility coping circle? Imagine five progressive actions placed around a circle. First, humility encourages you to admit that you should not be the primary ingredient in your life recipe. That is, life is not all about you; there are always others involved. Second, this admission can help release you from your personal pity parade, give you a sense of freedom that is uplifting, and instill you with an optimistic spirit. Third, continuing the progression around the circle, strengthened with your new-found positivity, you will be more likely to “share yourself” with others who are also fighting stress in their lives. Fourth, sharing your struggles with others not only requires you to talk to them, but it also requires you to listen to and learn from them. Thus are the seeds of empathy planted in your mind.

That brings us to the fifth and final phase along the humility coping circle, the actions that close the circle: Talking to, listening to, and learning from others will inevitably show you the essence of effective communication: Optimistic Empathy.

The circle is now complete. Can you see it? You begin with reducing a focus on yourself as the center of it all, and end with an empathetic understanding of others who are wrestling with similar life challenges as you are. But now, released from the prison of self-absorbed ego, you are able reach out to help others because you understand their plight. Purged of considering yourself special and deserving of pity, you cope with your stressors by helping others with their difficulties. And you also enjoy the benefits because you are participating in the fullness of the human experience.

As Mike Church and I said in Using Psychology to Cope with Everyday Stress:

“Empathy. We usually think of it in terms of helping others, but it’s more. If you have been previously victimized or are presently dealing with emotional upheaval in similar ways as another, who can understand their plight more than you? The true human beauty of empathy, however, is that both the giver (you) and the taker (the other) reap the psychological benefits. There is no more effective therapy than empathetic service to others. Whatever your plight, you are not alone in your difficulties. The best way to facilitate your ability to cope is to make sure that, as you travel the road to finding personal satisfaction, you leave no one behind.”


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